So often, we become fixated on getting the first draft done that we have no idea where to go from there. The first draft, in my opinion, should be written in a frenzy of creativity, a flush of crazy energy and the Muse working through you at warp speed to produce something that is raw, powerful, and malleable. Is this how I actually produce first drafts? Sadly, no. I tend to work in bursts – I get inspired for a week and write 15,000 words in just a couple days, then it sits there by itself until I figure out what to do next. I wish I could do the all-in-one-intensive-go thing (I would probably get a lot more projects done if I could) because my favorite part – the part that really makes the book – is right after: the editing and revision process.

Night_Mare is posting her response here if you’re interested to see her take on it (since she’s on her second draft right now and I am still plodding along on my first).

I wish I could tell you that these are the hard and fast rules, that if you follow these, then you’ll have a beautiful, perfect book at the end. Sadly, that’s not how it works. However, here are the different techniques that I’ve used to approach editing and it always helps me, whether I’m in the beginning stages or towards the end of a project.

My best advice is to find the method that works for you and to stick with it. Also know that working through different drafts will necessarily require you to have a different mind frame for each one. You should not think of your novel in the same way in the first draft as you do on the last one. To make things a little easier, I’ve divided the editing process into four stages:

Book Edits

I sometimes call these the “global edits.” In my case, I go through global edits even while I’m still in the first draft. If I’ve written an outline or I have an idea of where the story is going, I may write myself into a corner. In this editing stage, you look at the book as a whole. This means looking at plot, major characters, motivation, and back story. What doesn’t fit? How can I make the action more interesting? Remember that this is overall. An example would be: if you are writing in third person and you’re just not feeling it, you switch to first person (this is what I did).

Another example would be a turning point in the story. Say that your characters are racing towards a destination: they’ve got a time limit and severe consequences if they don’t make it. You may get bored because, duh, of course they’ll make it. But what if they don’t? How can they get out of the situation? Now you’ve got something more dynamic to work with – you’ve got to exercise your brain to figure out how to get them out of trouble. When I employed this same reasoning in a particularly sticky part of my novel, I was pleasantly surprised when a solution presented itself in an underused character. I’d been lamenting her near-useless status as a cardboard background for the two main characters to talk over: with my shift in plot direction, all of a sudden she developed a personality and fixed two major plot holes I’d been worrying about. Fixing problems in the plot can help you finish the novel, especially if you tend to start off without any direction (like I do).

Scene Edits

Only start using this technique in the second or beyond draft. If you’re having problems in the first draft with a scene, start from scratch (meaning at the beginning of the scene). Don’t try to go back and “fix” previous paragraphs because you’ll get bogged down with sentence structure and grammar when your bigger problem lies in plot. Figure out which road you’re supposed to take before you start commenting on the unevenness of the cobblestones.

Treat each scene as if it were a mini story within your overall story. How many characters are present? Does everyone play a role, even if they don’t speak? Is there action? Why is this scene here at all – what function does it fulfill in the grand scheme of the story? I often get stuck writing about my character’s inner world – what they think of the people and events happening around them, to the point that nothing happens. If you were to take one of these scenes, they would consist of my character standing in the middle of the street staring off into space for half an hour while they think about how awful that crisis is that they’re stuck in. Not so interesting, right? So for me, this is an especially important technique: what is actually HAPPENING in this scene? Are people walking? Running? Fighting? Talking? If they are talking, what else are they doing? Once you have a clear idea of what the scene is about, then you can go through with an eye for subtext and foreshadowing, adding those things that are important for later.

This technique is especially important because of continuity and keeping track of loose ends. If you keep track of what physically happens, then you know where everyone is and what they’re doing. You won’t “forget” a character or important subplot/plot/twist because you’re keeping track.

Chapter Edits

You can use this technique while writing the first draft but I strongly suggest that if you’re having chapter problems while in first draft mode, start fresh at the beginning of the chapter. Don’t edit in the first draft – restart from the beginning (of the scene or the chapter) if you’re having trouble.

Once you’re in second draft mode, however, chapter edits can be very useful. In this section, look at the scenes you’ve got in your novel. In fact, now would be a good time to grab a highlighter and mark every single time you have a scene in your chapter. Pick any chapter – pick the first chapter, since you’re going chronologically. How many scenes do you have in a chapter? Remember that chapters are a way of organizing the story for the reader. Just like when you have a “Part 1” or “Part 2,” chapters signal a beginning and end. You may have that every new scene is a new chapter; or you may have that a couple of scenes are in a chapter. Make sure that your organization is clear, even if it’s only for you. Make conscious decisions about what you want your scene to do and where you want to put it.

Just as a side note, I’ve heard a lot of times that people have “a slow start but then it gets good.” Don’t be one of these people. Treat every chapter like an interesting chapter, even if it’s “necessary for the plot” or “just conversations” or “just backstory that the reader needs to know.” If you’re bored, your reader isn’t paying attention anymore. Make sure that even the “slow” parts are interesting.

Line Edits

Finally, the line edits. I will say this as many times as is needed: DO THIS ONE LAST. I repeat, DO THIS ONE LAST. If you slash an entire subplot with your main character and his best friend where they travel into the mountains and slay a dragon; and instead have four other characters walk off into the desert in search of buried treasure, all those pretty commas you slaved over in your first draft are going to be useless. Make your book edits first before you touch your sentences. The only exception I have to this rule is clarity: if while you are writing, your sentences and meaning are unclear, then you can mess with sentence structure before you’re done with book edits (and even chapter edits).

This is the most fun part for me. I love to go back, find the really good sentences that I’m proud of, and expand on them. I like finding the sentences that don’t work and whipping them into shape. I also love finding that I don’t need to worry about foreshadowing or theme because I’ve already written something that takes care of both for me. DO THIS LAST.

And have fun polishing your novel. Remember also that agents and editors expect you to have at least a semi-professional edit to your manuscript before you send it in, especially in your query letter and in your first three chapters (at least). Don’t even think about sending in a manuscript until after you’ve gone through at least the book and chapter edits.

And there you have it! The editing process. You can always go back and do all of these over and over, and really, you could edit the same book – the same scene – for the rest of your life if you really wanted to. But part of being a writer is realizing when it’s okay to let go – it will never be perfect, you can’t expect it to be – and moving on to another project. But these tools will help you craft a well-rounded, solid book for whatever you want to do with it – publish it, print it out and put it in a drawer, show it to friends, post it online, whatever. Just remember to enjoy it!

Advertisements